House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wants the federal government to spend $45 billion on yet another COVID-19 stimulus package, nearly double what President Joe Biden's administration had asked for in the last omnibus spending bill.
Biden had initially asked for $22.5 billion in new emergency funding for the pandemic and Democrats had compromised to a $15.6 billion figure after Republicans objected. But even that compromise amount was cut from the $1.5 trillion omnibus bill that Congress passed last week, averting a government shutdown.
On Thursday, Pelosi told reporters that she wants the Biden administration to ask Congress for even more COVID-19 funds. "I think it should be double what they asked for, because even when they were asking for like 20-some [billion dollars] it was only going to get us to June" she said during her weekly press conference.
She added that this additional spending will need to be "offset" but did not explain whether she meant by tax increases or by cutting government spending in other areas. "We don't have it right now," she admitted.
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Earlier Thursday, Pelosi and other Democratic leaders met with the Biden administration's top public health officials, including Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci.
The Biden administration had requested additional funds "to avoid disruption to ongoing COVID response efforts over the next few months." The president said in a March 2 letter to Pelosi that $22.5 billion were needed for oral antiviral treatments, monoclonal antibody therapies and other pre-exposure prophylaxis, COVID-19 testing programs, new vaccine research, and global vaccination programs.
Biden requested $18.25 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services for domestic pandemic funds, while the other $4.25 billion would be sent abroad through the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development.
Republicans opposed the president's spending request, arguing it was too costly and needed to be offset by budget cuts elsewhere. After negotiating with Democrats, a $15.6 billion compromise was reached that was partially offset by using more than $7 billion in unspent state COVID-19 funds from the American Rescue Plan passed in March 2020.
But the deal fell apart when rank-and-file Democrats opposed the spending offsets, forcing Pelosi to pull COVID-19 funding out of the stimulus package entirely.
Speaking Thursday, Pelosi vowed that new COVID-19 relief would be passed no matter the cost.
"What I've said to the administration is ... you must ask for more. Because we need more, and you can't expect money, this [bill], to turn around just like that because the legislative process takes time," she said. "We want it to be bipartisan; we need it to be paid for. And so let's just go for a bigger chunk."
The federal government has spent more than $5 trillion during the COVID-19 pandemic, growing the national debt to more than $30 trillion, a figure that is 25.6% larger than GDP — the estimated value of the entire U.S. economy.